A private group is preparing legislation that would toughen Utah's drunken-driving law, already the nation's strictest.
The statute proposed by the Alcohol Policy Coalition, composed of educators, church leaders and doctors, would lower the blood-alcohol content for driving under the influence from 0.08 to 0.05.The Citizens Council on Alcoholic Beverage Control, the state agency charged with shaping liquor laws, has expressed support for the concept. But it wants to see a draft of the bill before taking formal action.
The current 0.08 level is the lowest in the nation. Utah was the first state to adopt that level and has since been joined by four other states, including California.
"The 0.05 would send a strong message that there is no safe level for drinking and driving," said Dr. George Van Komen, coalition chairman.
Van Komen said the 0.05 level was chosen because it has the backing of the American Medical Association.
The coalition will solicit endorsements from law enforcement agencies and prosecutors before drafting the bill, Van Komen said.
But police officers and prosecutors are greeting the proposal with mixed reactions.
"Good lord, they want to get it down to the point where you can go to jail if you sniff the cork," said Ogden Police Capt. A.K. Greenwood. "I don't see what it would prove to go to 0.05."
Greenwood he's not sure what impact the proposal would have on police forces. On one hand, he said, officers might have to take more suspects in for breathalyzer tests because even a hint of alcohol on someone's breath might register at 0.05.
But a driver also would probably not show the impaired behavior behind the wheel that attracts a police officer's attention, Greenwood said.
"I doubt that many adults at 0.05 are going to be driving that badly," he said.
Kathi Sjoberg, one of two deputies in charge of drunken-driving prosecutions in the Davis County attorney's office, said the proposal's goal is good, but it likely will meet resistance from defense attorneys.
"They'll claim motorists at that level are not impaired to the point where they can't drive a vehicle. We still hear that argument now about the 0.08 level compared to the 0.10 we had before," she said.
Members of the citizens council said the tougher law won't work unless it has public support. A law that is considered too stringent would not be enforced, they warned.
Council members also suggested that lighter penalties for the lower alcohol limit be woven into the bill, such as a warning and a one-week loss of driving privileges on convictions beneath the 0.08 level.
The coalition said it will consider all options and have the proposed law drafted in time for the 1992 general session of the Legislature.